Understanding the implications of the global growth of non-standard work

calum-carson-web

Calum Carson reflects on his input into a major new research report by the International Labour Organisation on the growth of non-standard forms of employment around the world.

During the past few decades, a key debate has emerged in the work and employment research field as to whether the traditional laws and conventions that regulate employment and the employer-employee relationship have been irrevocably transformed by the rise of a number of new, “non-standard” forms of employment (NSFE). While this has long been a major issue of contention these developments are now being taken seriously by major global actors such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The continued growth of NSFE and its implications for those employed in such roles are the key focus of a major new report launched this month by the ILO, which highlights the policies needed to improve the quality of non-standard jobs. The report finds that there has been a rise in non-standard forms of employment globally, to the extent of which that they are now, in the words of ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy, Deborah Greenfield, “a widespread feature of contemporary labour markets.”

Such non-standard forms of employment include temporary roles; part-time work; temporary agency work; “micro jobs”; the misclassification of individuals in certain roles as “independent contractors” (otherwise known as disguised employment relationships); and dependent self-employment. In Britain in particular, the growth in the number of workers employed on zero-hour contracts reflects the rise of these new forms of employment, with over 903,000 individuals (2.9% of the entire workforce) employed under such contracts. Additionally, a comprehensive analysis published in November revealed that more than one in five workers in the UK (over 7.1 million people) are employed under precarious working conditions, up from 5.3 million in just 2006.

With the continued growth in NSFE an ever-greater number of workers are unable to access certain benefits associated with a ‘traditional’ employment relationship, such as pension contributions from employers, paternity leave, and sickness and annual leave pay. Such workers also struggle to collectively organise and represent themselves in disputes with their employers via effective trade unions, as seen most recently in the UK with strikes by Deliveroo and Uber workers. The rise of these new forms of employment call for new forms of regulation in turn, both in order to address both the issues discussed above, and to ensure that the future evolution of NSFE develops in a sustainable manner for both workers and their employers.

While the ILO report does highlight the positive implications that NSFE can have in certain instances, including providing access to the labour market for disadvantaged groups and granting some flexibility to both workers and employers, it also cautions that NSFE is often associated with greater insecurity for workers. In some cases, particularly where contractual arrangements have blurred the employment relationship, there is evidence that workers have difficulty exercising their fundamental rights at work, or gaining access to social security benefits and on-the-job training. These issues also affect employers, too, by creating productivity losses and resulting in high rates of turnover in staff.

Finally, the report suggests four key policy recommendations to improve the quality of non-standard jobs: to plug regulatory gaps in the oversight of NSFE roles, in order to protect workers in a more direct manner; to strengthen collective bargaining for NSFE workers, to enable them to challenge their employers where necessary; to strengthen social protection of workers, to ensure that workers have access to the same level of benefits that workers working under a traditional employer-employee relationship do; and by instituting employment and social policies that support job creation and that accommodate workers’ needs not only for training, but also for family responsibilities such as childcare and elder care.

In the context of the growth of NSFE and its seemingly permanent embedding in labour markets across the world, this report makes an important contribution in helping to highlight the key issues surrounding this phenomena, and in how best to protect those workers operating within such roles both now and in the future. Such research is critical in helping us to fully understand and inform the continued development of these issues, as well as other changing dynamics within the world of work, employment and labour markets. The ILO, CERIC, and our colleagues across the world have a key role to play in the undertaking and dissemination of this crucial research.

Here at CERIC research into this area continues with a new study commissioned by the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs of the European Parliament, which will examine the development of the collaborative economy in Europe and the potential need for greater social protections for workers operating within it. Involving a wide number of colleagues across CERIC and under the leadership of Professor Chris Forde, this research will report back its findings to the European Parliament and the wider public in May.

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